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Dynamic Sea Ice Buoy Deployment Planning Underway

In only two short weeks from now I'll be landing in Utqiaġvik, Alaska for an ocean front spring break science expedition. It's not really spring break for our International Arctic Buoy Program (IABP) team, rather it will be ten days of field work and outreach in the local community.

View from plane over Utqiaġvik, Alaska at Arctic Ocean on March 28, 2022; photo by Sarah R Johnson
View from plane over Utqiaġvik, Alaska at Arctic Ocean on March 28, 2022. The darker gray spot in this photo is the landing strip and town of Utqiaġvik. photo by Sarah R Johnson

In preparation for deploying buoys on the sea ice we are busy studying precise and sea ice data provided by the National Ice Center that is collected from satellite and radar data and communicated through very high resolution maps available to researchers and the military.

We look for the largest multi-year sea ice we can find to deploy buoys on so that they have the best chance of long lasting operation. The drifting buoys we will be deploying via snow machines and helicopter last longest perched on the sea ice while it circulates around the Arctic Ocean rather than floating in the open water.

Similar map data (with less resolution) is available to all people through, NASA Worldview. View the video below to see just how dynamic the sea ice is off Point Barrow Alaska over the past few weeks. Also, access the WorldView video link to zoom in and out and explore a wider field of view over a longer time series.

While we are planning our deployment strategy for buoys (and wooden boats) we also rely on the invaluable sea ice observations from the local elders and wisdom keepers. Many of them share information publicly through facebook pages and other online forums: Alaska Arctic Observatory & Knowledge Hub or AAOKH (most recent observations are on AAOKH facebook page), SIKU, the Indigenous Knowledge Social Network, and Seasonal Ice Zone Observing Network.

Perhaps most importantly we rely on established relationships with the Utqiaġvik whaling captains, UIC-Science techs, and others who have lived there for their entire lives to ensure that we are safe on the sea ice while deploying the buoys. We know the best scientists and researchers are those who come home safe.

Sea Ice Descriptions and Names from SIKU, the Indigenous Knowledge Social Network operated by the Arctic Eider Society

May the planning, packing, and excitement continue!


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